Jean-Claude Duvalier has lived a strange and miserable life. Reportedly a quiet sort of boy, he was appointed by his father in 1971 as President of Haiti at the age of 19. As "Baby Doc" grew into the mindset of a dictator, the corruption and violence of life in Haiti increased. In the mid-1980s, the US Commerce Department reported that 64 percent of U.S. funds sent to Haiti were misused. The estimated "kill tally" of the Duvalier era is 30,000-50,000. Insofar as the poverty and chaos of Haiti can be traced to any one regime in its two hundred year history, the Duvalier Duo has blood on their hands.
After winning a fraudulent election in 1985, the young "President for Life" became the focus of demonstrations, threats, and widespread disgust. With U.S. help, he scuttled out of the country under cover of darkness on February 7, 1986, greedy wife and family at his side. Since then, he has lived as an exile in France, assets dwindling, hounded by those who would like to bring him to trial for unspeakable crimes, abandoned by his "Mrs." who—no doubt—found life in the presidential palace of Port-au-Prince more exciting than life in a Parisian apartment. Throughout all of this, the "Baby" has kept a low profile, except for his public comments in 2002 suggesting that he would like to return to Haiti and help to rebuild the country. No one, it should be noted, responded with an invitation.
Finally, in 2007, "Baby Doc" had a ray of hope as approximately $6 million frozen in Swiss bank accounts was scheduled to become available on June 1, 2007. But Switzerland is not only a nation of bank accounts; it is social welfare state and an international society. From this small center of Europe, NGOs of all kinds work feverishly to send support to those in need throughout the world. After all, Switzerland is the home of the Red Cross and the European seat of the UN. Not surprisingly, the freeze on "Baby Doc's millions" was extended by legislation in mid-June. Three months now remain for Switzerland to find a way to avoid the role of accomplice in one of the great crimes of the twentieth century.
The problem is that Swiss law requires evidence in order to withhold funds from the owner of an account. This means documentation, public records, spreadsheets, or at least a letter from a lawyerÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ something legal and reliable to prove that the money was stolen and does not rightfully belong to Jean-Claude Duvalier. But this expectation from a country where over 6 million people live in abject poverty and are unlikely to have a birth certificate, never mind a dossier or death certificate on the sons and daughters who disappeared in the 1980s, is unrealistic. Rather than "proof," how about a bit of logic?
Jean-Claude Duvalier never had a job in Haiti, other than his "reign" as President for Life. And that post he held for a mere 15 years. If the $120 million he and his wife are believed to have stolen were money earned, he would have been paid over $10 million per year in a nation where the annual income is around $300. Is that possible? Another approach might be to take a look at Haiti's "profile" and ask a question so familiar to the American electorate: Are you better off today that you were before? Ask anyone, the man tilling a small plot of earth in the countryÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ the AIDS orphan performing slave labor in the cityÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ the victims of kidnappings and shootingsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ the doctors who fly in and out of Haiti trying to hold back the threat of infectious diseaseÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ the church groups who have been sending teams of missionaries for yearsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ the Haitian-Americans who send money to a "homeland" they are afraid to visit. If Haiti is no better off than it was 25 years ago, isn't it reasonable to trace a line of responsibility to the man now sitting in Paris, waiting for "his millions" to become available.
Newspaper and radio reports insist that Switzerland would like to send these millions to the Haitian government. But even if "proof" that it was stolen existed, would wiring it into Haiti's general fund be a good idea? After all, on the Global Corruption Index, Haiti ranks 163 out of 163 nations. Where, we might ask, would that money end up?
In a country where there no stable infrastructure, no rule of law, and no government strong enough to protect its people, who is caring for the people? The answer obvious to anyone who has visited Haiti in this century is the NGOs. With this in mind, how about sending $1.5 million each to the following NGOs whose work in Haiti is legendary?
---Enfants du Monde: www.enfantsdumonde.org
---HÃƒÂ´pital Albert Schweitzer: Ian Rawson, www.hashaiti.org
---Nouvelle PlanÃƒÂ¨te: Willy Randin, www.nouvelle-planete.ch
---Partners in Healt: Ophelia Dahl, www.pih.org
We all know Baby Doc does not deserve this money. How about using the logic, moral judgment, and critical thinking we would expect of a high school student, rather than allow stolen funds to become lost in a first world/third world culture gap or to a technicality of Swiss law? How about sending a message to this dictator and all others that even Switzerland, with all its civility and charm, knows when to say NO?
Patti Marxsen's articles, essays, interviews, and reviews (art and books) on Haiti have appeared in The Journal of Haitian Studies, the French Review, the Caribbean Writer, and in various publications of HÃƒÂ´pital Albert Schweitzer-Haiti. She lives in Switzerland.